Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sergio A. Mims: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Step Afrika! team up for ‘The Nutcracker’

Step Afrika!’s Magical, Musical Holiday Step Show in December, 2013 (Jati Lindsay © 2013/Jati Lindsay © 2013)

Sergio A. Mims forwards this article about a version of The Nutcracker which was recorded in 1960 by Duke Ellington (1899-1974), who is featured at

The Washington Post
November 28

Forget the visions of sugarplums dancing in your head.
What about all the versions of “The Nutcracker” dancing on stages in every American city?

Tchaikovsky’s ballet may not have shaken the world when he first presented it, in 1892, but in the 60 years since George Balanchine’s landmark 1954 production for the New York City Ballet, it has become the holiday staple that funds half the rest of the season for many companies.

All manner of Nutcrackers have been performed, from rock to hip-hop. This year’s crop includes even a musical variant with puppets and a new score at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre.

Washington favorite son Duke Ellington put his own spin on “The Nutcracker Suite” in a 1960 recording with Billy Strayhorn. Its jazzy variations have been picked up by others; the work will be part of a National Symphony Orchestra pops performance with Cirque de la Symphonie at the Kennedy Center, Dec. 11-13.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is taking Ellington’s version a step further, adding the percussive rhythms of the District’s 20-year-old, widely touring step dance troupe Step Afrika! with new choreography for two family shows on Dec. 6.

“The impetus was thinking about how to create a new holiday program for our midweek youth concert and also for our family concerts,” said Carol Bogash, the vice president of education and community engagement for the BSO.
“I knew the Ellington version and really always enjoyed it,” Bogash said of “The Nutcracker.” “We wanted to present something that’s never actually never been presented before in this region: Ellington’s ‘Nutcracker’ with actual choreography by a professional step company.”

To do “Nutcracker” this time of year is a no-brainer, said BSO education director Annemarie Guzy. “‘The Nutcracker’ is wildly popular.”
They contacted Step Afrika!, whose founder and artistic director, C. Brian Williams, wasn’t familiar with the Ellington version.
“The first thing we did was, we bought the album and listened to it to see where we would find ourselves in that music,” Williams said. “There were some natural connections.”

In addition to his D.C. roots, Ellington was “a member of a historically black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.” Williams said. And it was in the African American fraternities where step dancing began.

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